Decoding Body Language: 15 Clear Signs That Someone Is Lying

A persuasion and hidden-emotion expert reveals subconscious actions that are red flags for deceit.

“The body can’t lie," according to Traci Brown, a global body-language and persuasion expert based in Boulder, Colo. Learning to read the subtle signs that tell us when a person is lying is an enormous advantage in our personal and business relationships, she says, adding, "Make sure you’re paying attention, or you will pay with pain.”

1. Mismatched Words & Body Language

In our culture, shaking one’s head up and down means yes, and side to side means no. If someone is saying, "No, I didn’t do it," but their head is shaking yes, they probably did it. “People subconsciously accent things with their heads all the time,” says Brown, and the head is more trustworthy than the mouth.

For examples, watch video clips of high-profile figures denying serious accusations — all while shaking their heads yes: President Bill Clinton insisting he did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky; JonBenét Ramsey’s father saying he didn’t kill his daughter; and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady saying he didn’t deflate the football.

How to Confront a Liar
If you suspect someone is lying, ask more questions. Take a lesson from the jailhouse interrogations you see on TV. Pointed questions about the questionable “facts” might lead them to construct more lies — but now you’ll be reading their body language to spot signs of deception. When pressed further, the subject just might melt down and tell you the truth.

2. Big, Bold and Bogus

If someone interrupts others frequently, takes up lots of space with their arm gestures and posture, and is stone faced when speaking, be very wary. These qualities often can reveal a practiced fraud. (Watch the news and observe!)

3. Doubling Down on Deception

People who are most effusive in their denials or other untrue statements are among the most likely to be guilty. “The ones who are working really hard at looking like the good guy are the people we have got to be wary of," says Brown, who, as a former professional cyclist, counts Lance Armstrong — and many current political figures — among the culprits.

4. Lips Don't Lie

Folding in one's lips before speaking is a red flag. "When people's lips disappear, they are holding back information," said Brown. "The next thing that comes out of their mouth is either a half-truth or a lie."

hand covering mouth indicates a lie
These are some natural-looking ways to cover the mouth. When asked a direct question, the next thing said is usually false.

5. A Hand-to-Mouth Giveaway

Notice when someone covers his or her mouth with their hand, even partly. It looks natural but often indicates that the next thing they say is false. If you ask, “Why did you leave your last position?” and their hand comes up to their mouth as they pause quickly and then say, “I outgrew the position,” they’re holding back information. To draw out the truth, you could respond: “It seems like you’ve got more to say. Want to expand on that?”

6. Be Attuned to Tone

Tone of voice is one of the best indicators of deception. A strong "convincing" tone often indicates deception, while a softer "conveying" tone can mean someone is telling a partial truth and not the whole story.

7. Notice the Jitters

If someone becomes fidgety, that can indicate deception. Our feet give us away with the instinct to flee an uncomfortable situation, and when our brains tell us we can’t do that, a little dancing in place might be the result.

8. Look for Inconsistencies 

People have typical patterns with respect to their baseline body language and manner of speaking. If someone's body language is unusual for that person, take note.

9. Distrust a Delay

If someone waits more than five seconds to answer a question, that’s a pretty good sign of deception.

10. Yes or No Isn’t Maybe

"I think so," "I don’t recall" or "to the best of my knowledge" are suspect answers to any yes-or-no question.

11. Never Say Never 

When someone answers “never” to a yes-or-no question, be suspicious.

12. Once Is Enough 

Similarly, a double answer — “yes, yes” or “no, no” — might signify a lie.

13. Spy Anxious Eyes

"When you see the whites of people’s eyes, that means fear," says Brown. If someone’s eyes dart around when they’re asked a question — shifting up, down and side-to-side — they’re afraid to give an honest answer.

smile in the eyes is real
Notice the smile on the left involves the eyes. That's a real smile.

14. Truth is in the Crow’s Feet

Genuine smiles always involve the eyes. Look for crow’s feet. For example, if a business contact says, “this is a project we’re excited about” and you see those little wrinkles extending from their eyes towards their temples, their enthusiasm is genuine. If you don’t see crow’s feet, beware: Confidence is being overstated.  

15. Behold the Blink Rate

If someone’s eyes blink more rapidly when addressing a particular topic or answering certain questions, this is a telltale sign of anxiety, which often coincides with a lie.

Traci Brown, author of How to Detect Lies, Fraud and Identity Theft, works with the country’s top law enforcement agencies and has helped companies avoid fraud loss by rooting out deception. Brown is a frequent speaker and has keynoted several Northstar Meetings Group events.